The biggest priority for education spending is the long tail of under-achieving children, especially those who don’t manage even basic literacy and numeracy.
The National-led government spent a lot of money working with young people who were destined for a lifetime on benefits knowing investing more now would save much more in both financial and social costs over their lifetimes.
This approach ought to be taken with education, giving one-on-one help to the children who aren’t school-ready when they turn five.
That’s the children who can’t speak English or have poor language skills, even if English is their first language; those who come to school hungry and with other health needs; those who haven’t had the emotional, intellectual and material support all children deserve and need to ensure they are ready and able to learn when they get to school.
At the same time, children already at school who are struggling with numeracy and literacy need more help.
Then there’s children with special needs who for their sake and others in their classes need more help than a single teacher with a room full of children can possibly give them.
Helping these children requires more teachers and teacher-aides. It also requires better teachers.
Teacher unions insist all teachers are good teachers. They’re not, like any other group. They are spread on the bell curve with some excellent ones, some duds and most in the middle.
Putting more money into more training and support to improve teaching standards is another priority.
Teachers aren’t particularly well-paid in comparison with other professions. Part of the fault for that lies in the union insistence that all teachers are equal and refusal to countenance performance pay.
That aside, pay rates that make teacher salaries competitive with pay rates for other occupations which compete with them for recruitment would help.
The new government is determined to alleviate child poverty. Ensuring all children achieve at school so they have what they need to succeed when they grow up should be part of that.
Instead, Labour’s first priority is spending even more on those who mostly need it least, tertiary students.
The taxpayer already pays more than 70% of the cost of tertiary study.
If more help is needed, it should be targeted at those who really need it; at areas of study where there are graduate-shortages and in loan write-offs for professionals willing to work in hard-to-staff places.
The average graduate earns around $1.5 million more over a lifetime than non-graduates who will be paying more tax to help them into better paid jobs.
In opposition the parties in government were strident about the ills of inequality.
How hypocritical that one of their first moves, giving tertiary students fee-free education will make inequality worse.